There's no shortage of vintage advertisements that look awful today because they were made when minstrel shows were the height of entertainment and women were viewed as pieces of furniture that spit out dinner and sex. But a select few ad campaigns aged badly for reasons that not even the most cynical pundit could have predicted. Look at how ...
In a 2000 FedEx spot, Steve Irwin is bitten by a snake, but he's not worried because he's having the appropriate antivenin shipped over by FedEx. Then he's informed that they went with a competitor instead, whereupon he promptly dies, either because of the delay or from a brand-loyalty-induced outrage.
This could have been way worse; Irwin could have been stabbed by a stingray. It's still not comfortable to watch. Still, the ad never made much sense to begin with, given that Irwin's response to being bitten by what he says is the world's deadliest animal is to start talking about how great FedEx is. But it took on a dark irony when he was indeed killed by an animal in 2006. At least FedEx could present themselves as forward-thinking?
In 2001, Lance Armstrong was dominating bike racing thanks to good old-fashioned gumption and definitely nothing else. To celebrate his completely legitimate achievements, Nike ran an ad wherein Armstrong spits out pithy phrases like "This is my body, and I can do whatever I want to it" and "I can push it, study it, and tweak it" to mock critics who dared imply that innocent bicycle boy might not be entirely on the level.
He then says, "Everybody wants to know what I'm on," before answering with a call to action: "I'm on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?" We guess it wouldn't have been as catchy if he said, "I'm on my bike busting my ass six hours a day, and also a shit-ton of human growth hormone! You should try it!"
In the '90s, concussions in football were taken so seriously that the NFL put a rheumatologist in charge of studying them. That's the environment for this 1996 Snickers commercial, which features a player who, after taking a big hit, is put on the sideline because he now thinks he's Batman. And that's the joke. The inherent hilarity of head trauma has given him plenty of time to enjoy a mediocre chocolate bar.
Nowadays, of course, we know much more about the link between football, concussions, and long-term brain damage, and the NFL spends millions of dollars a year pretending to take it seriously.
In 1962, Humble Oil wanted to give consumers a sense of how much energy they were giving the world. They needed an eye-catching analogy. And, well, they got one.
They weren't intentionally melting 7 million tons of glacier a day, because they weren't a sponsor for the Legion of Doom. But "Let's base our marketing around the shrinking of the ice caps!" sure looks arrogant in hindsight. Luckily, Humble realized they were going against their brand name and, uh, rebranded as Exxon. They then became one of the most aggressive lobbyists against climate change regulation.
In 1997, Sarah Ferguson was recently divorced from Prince Andrew and in need of money. As part of her burgeoning business empire, she became a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. One ad featured Ferguson commenting that losing weight was "Harder than outrunning the paparazzi."
It was a lighthearted remark about the intense public scrutiny faced by members of the Royal Family ... right up until her former sister-in-law, Diana, was killed in a car crash that was blamed on overzealous paparazzi. The ad was understandably stopped, but not before thousands of flyers featuring the slogan had already been sent out across America. But at least that was the last big scandal the royal family ever faced.
In 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide factory leaked toxic gas on the people of Bhopal, India, killing an estimated 15,000, injuring over 500,000 more, and becoming a likely suspect for the birth defects that still plague the region. It was one of the most devastating industrial accidents in history, and Union Carbide accidentally foreshadowed it in a 1962 ad.
Putting aside the patronizing racism of a giant white hand swooping in to save India, it all sounds like a supervillain statement. Union Carbide says they'll help build "a new India," and will have "a hand in things to come." They might as well have added "The prophecy will come to pass," but instead it says, "India needs the technical knowledge of the western world." We guess that probably did come in handy during the cleanup efforts necessitated by their corporate malfeasance.
In a late '80s attempt to increase ridership, British Rail raised the upper age limit for their cheaper Young Persons Railcard from 23 to 25. And to promote this savings bonanza, they turned to Gary Glitter.
Today, Glitter is best-known for writing a song played in every sporting venue on the planet, going to jail for committing a variety of sex crimes against underage victims, and still having that song commonly played for some reason. Obviously, they couldn't have known at the time, but it's possible that Glitter may have agreed to the "Pretend to be young again" ad campaign a little too easily.
In 2011, DC gave its least discerning comic book fans Subway Presents: Justice League. Over four installments, the Justice League teamed up with "Famous Fans" -- that is, celebrities with Subway endorsement deals. This included Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, boxer Laila Ali, and of course, the equally athletic Jared Fogle. In the fourth episode of this thrilling series, we see Jared and Ali wearing Subway shirts while spontaneously deciding to go to "Subway Restaurants" for lunch, because the comic hasn't decided whether they're employees or customers.
Then, of course, evil robots show up. Ali throws punches while Jared pushes civilians to safety. If you look closely, you may be able to spot some subtle product endorsement.
Jared then helps take down the supervillain Manhunter, who we guess works for Quiznos, by dumping the contents of a cement truck on him. (Presumably he's a cement expert because of all the Subway sauces he's eaten.) Anyway, Superman thanks Jared and shakes his hand while Wonder Woman looks on in admiration, an image that's aged like fine dogshit.
Jared and Ali finally head to Subway, although Ali says "Only if you're buying," which seems like a questionable way to advertise food that's supposed to be cheap and desirable. And then, with a stomach full of nutritious and energizing ingredients, Jared hops online to solicit 14-year-olds (not depicted, but implied).
For more, check out 8 Reasons Advertising Doesn't Work Anymore:
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